Shabbat-Table Talks: Naso

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil

Value: Using words that encourage and "bless." This weekís perasha contains the verses known as "Birkat Kohanim." In addition to the metaphysical effects of blessings, there is the effect of hearing encouraging words. The Birkat Kohanim is an example of when words are used communally to promote protection and peace. There are many situations in our lives when the right words said in the right way can serve as a "blessing."

Text: Numbers 6:22-27 (Schocken Bible translation)

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying: Thus are you to bless the Children of Israel; say to them:

May Hashem bless you and keep you!

May Hashem shine His face upon you and favor you!

May Hashem lift up His face toward you and grant you peace!

So are they to put My name upon the Children of Israel, that I Myself might bless them.

Discussion: Ask: What does the word "bless" mean? (It could mean either to pronounce a blessing, or to bestow good upon someone.) How is it used in both these ways in the section? (The first way is when the Kohanim, Aharon and his sons, are to pronounce the blessing on the Children of Israel. The second way is that God Himself will bless Israel by bestowing His good upon them.)

Why do you think that God wants the Kohanim to recite these words before bestowing his goodness on Israel? Canít He give Israel good things without the Kohanim reciting a blessing? (The answer is that of course God can bestow His good upon anyone at any time, whether someone pronounces a blessing upon them or not. Yet, God wants His children to seek one anotherís good and to wish well upon one another.)

The act of pronouncing the blessing and hearing it impacts both the one giving the blessing and the one receiving it in a very deep way. Blessing someone means that I am seeking his good. I want him to succeed, so I will do what I can to help him. The person listening knows that the person pronouncing the blessing wishes him well. The person blessing is asking the most powerful being in the universe to help those who hear the blessing. An environment where people wish each other well is an environment where people succeed.

Why were Aharon and his children specifically chosen to pronounce the blessing?

Our sages ask us to "be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace; loving people and bringing them closer to Torah." According to our sages, Aharonís nature was to love people. When we truly love a people, we want them to succeed.

[The blessing that the Kohanim recite before they bless the rest of the people in the synagogue emphasizes that the Kohanim were commanded to bless "His nation Israel with love." This daily focus on "ahavat Yisrael" can go a very long way in creating an attitude of successful cooperation with the people in the community.]

The words we use with our brothers, sisters and friends can encourage them to succeed. The words we use in our families and classrooms can create the kind of environment where the children feel safe, loved and encouraged. Many times the way we choose to speak to our children can determine whether they will be encouraged or not. Choosing to speak in a positive way instead of criticizing can often encourage children to succeed at home and in school.

When your children are quarrelling, teach them how to use words to create cooperation instead of anger. (Model this in your own quarrels with your spouse.)

One technique is to catch your children doing something good and notice that. Donít lavish praise, because that can also backfire (global, non-descriptive praise does not direct and reinforce positive behavior). Rather, describe what you see or what you would like to see. For example: Letís say your children remember to hang up their over coats when they come into the house. Notice it by describing what you see. "Sammy, you came home and hung your coat in its place. Thatís what I call organized." Or when they forget to hang up their coats, instead of giving them a long-winded harangue, say: "I see the coats on the sofa, I would love to see them hung in the closet." Find the positive way to speak and create an environment of cooperation in the household. (For some excellent books on this topic see Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish _How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk_, _How to Talk So Kids Can Learn_, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children)

On Blessings: Ultimately God bestows the blessing. We should not confuse the person pronouncing the blessing with God who bestows the blessing. In our tefilah, the Kohanim cover their faces and hands and close their eyes with the awareness that it is only God Who bestows the blessing. (You can discuss this point with older children by asking why they think that the Kohanim cover their faces with the talit when reciting the blessing.)

Applications: At school: encourage one another to do well. Be happy when a friend succeeds on a test or an oral report. Describe what you liked about his presentation.

On the ball field: praise good plays, even those of your opponent. Remember, the most important goal of the game is to have fun and always to do well.

Think about other ways that we can use words positively to encourage success.


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Shabbat Table Talks is a publication of the Sephardic Orthodox Union.